Hello fright fans, my name’s Sam Ashurst and I’m Total Film’s resident cult horror expert.
I spend so much time banging on about ’70s giallo movies, ’80s VHS trash classics, ’90s serial killer flicks and ’00s foreign chillers that TF has finally decided to give me my own column. Possibly to shut me up.
Each week, I’ll be dissecting the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases, uncovering hidden gore gems, and rummaging through my VHS collection to bring you some of the most bafflingly beautiful video covers from the ’80s.
And come back every Friday for exclusive clips, interviews and cool competitions to get your plasma pumping.
So, take off your razor-tipped gloves, hang up your cobweb-covered hat and gently rest your bone-blunted axe beside the door.
And welcome to my House Of Horror…
One of the biggest misconceptions about horror fans is that we’re all misogynist idiots who love to see women getting chopped up and brutalised.
It’s an argument that completely ignores the fact that a massive section of horror fandom is made up of women. And the fact that the genre is responsible for some of the most iconic female characters in cinema history – Ripley, Laurie Strode, Regan MacNeil, Sadako, Rosemary, and many, many more.
But, fuck ’em. Haters gonna hate. We know that 99% of the time, horror audiences are required to directly identify with the female lead (it’s Final Girl, not Final Boy).
And we also know that, every now and then, horror cinema creates kick-ass female villains who are equally as cool as their male counterparts. And, in the case of X-Cross ‘ scissor-wielding villainess Reiko, infinitely cooler.
Dressed up in Gothic Lolita gear, wielding increasingly large scissors as weapons, and with a demented gleam in the one eye that isn’t hidden behind a homemade eye-patch, Reiko is one of my all-time top-five slasher killers.
The film’s not ten minutes in before we meet her for the first time. And her first proper line of dialogue? (I’m not counting “Snip. Snip. Snip.”) “Have you ever seen the true face of Hell?” And, believe it or not, that’s her catchphrase .
But Reiko isn’t the only thing to adore about X-Cross . If it’s positive lead female characters you’re after, it’s got two of ’em.
Japanese pop star Ami Suzuko is brilliant as the tougher of the two heroines – high-kicking her way through a climax that has to be gawped at to be believed.
The plot is deliriously glorious – involving an evil village that tricks girls into visiting so they can chop off their legs and sacrifice them to their weird gods.
The structure is both playful and experimental – changing perspectives based on a mobile phone motif (you have to see it to get how it works), constantly shifting through time and space.
And it’s beautifully shot. I haven’t loved misty woods this much since I last watched Evil Dead 2 . And I haven’t loved a scene involving a fight between a girl with a chainsaw and a girl with a massive pair of scissors since… Do you know what? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that outside of X-Cross now I come to think about it.
X-Cross is a very odd film. The entire second half is amongst one of the most insane – and fun – things I’ve ever seen. It’s very violent, but comically so.
Cynics will take one look at X-Cross , and decide it’s the latest in a long line of films in which women are chopped up for fun.
That’s ignoring the fact that, in this one, the women are the ones doing most of the actual chopping, it’s female friendship that saves the day, and our heroines are dealing with men stupid enough to think that “Dear guest, were you able to clean your legs? About the power failure, there’s no need to worry, I’ll be there right away” isn’t going to set their victims slightly on edge.
X-Cross is a brilliant film. Whether you’re a man, woman or scissor-wielding psychopath, you’re going to love it. Just don’t let the cynics at it. They’ll probably want to cut all the good bits.
Dead Heat (1988)
In the 1980s the mismatched buddy cop movie was a Hollywood staple.
Whether the cops didn’t get on because of their conflicting ideologies ( Red Heat ), differences in opinion on how the cleaning should be done ( Turner and Hooch ) or because one of them was a white man and one of them was a black man ( 48 Hours ), it seemed the secret to box office gold in the ’80s was putting two policemen who didn’t get on into a car together.
But what Dead Heat added to the mix was zombies, instantly making it my favourite buddy cop movie of all time.
The plot involves a gang of old duffers – led by the genius of Vincent Price – clubbing together to try to create eternal life, using zombie gangsters to protect their in-progress immortality machine.
When our heroes stumble across the plot, one of them is accidentally zombified by the machine, before gradually turning into one of the coolest dead-heads in cinema history.
There’s a lot to love about Dead Heat . It’s got Joe Piscapo spitting out one-liners like Arnie in divorce court – at one point Joe utters three before he finally gets around to killing the giant zombie pig he’s been taking the piss out of.
It’s arguably the world’s first bromantic comedy, with our two cop leads clearly being completely in love with each other before a zombie virus comes along to mismatch them (and one of them being dead is an infinitely better mismatch than one of them being a bit mental – I’m looking at you here, Lethal Weapon ).
It’s also got one of the best body melt sequences in the history of body melt sequences. For that reason alone it should be on your must-see list.
These days, zombie films are as ubiquitous as buddy cop films were in the ’80s. It seems to be the go-to genre for first-time filmmakers.
Whether the resurrection of the dead is caused by cows ( Dead Meat ), rats ( Zombie Virus On Mulberry Street ) or ice cream ( Wasting Away ), the zombie virus shows no sign of receding from the modern universal subconscious.
But even in the face of all that competition, Dead Heat definitely deserves a second chance at life.
Currently only available on R1 DVD or second-hand VHS (my personal favourite format). Dead Heat is occasionally shown on the brilliant Horror Channel. Keep an eye out for it. It might just be the best mismatched buddy cop movie you’ll ever see.
This mini-feature was written because @funkymonkey74 requested it. If you want me to cover one of your favourite trashy horror flicks from the ’80s (I’ve seen all of them), leave a comment below.
Dead Hooker In A Trunk proved that writers/ directors/ stars Jen and Sylvia Soska are expert movie death-dealers.
So I decided to drop them a line to discuss their Top Ten movie death scenes. I kept a gun, a machete and a power-drill close to my side, just in case things got out of hand.
BE WARNED: SPOILERS FOLLOW. Obviously.
10. Black Swan: The Finale
Then she dies in the final act just as intended for the character she’s playing, but it’s at her own hand. There is something lovely when a crazed character finds her peace and is fulfilled.
Portman absolutely killed every time she was on screen – the ending was just perfect, like an opera.”
9. Death Proof: The Car Accident
Right on both accounts, sir.”
8. Antichrist: The Son’s Death Sequence
“Gorgeous. You’ll never leave feeling nothing after watching a Lars Von Trier film.
Antichrist opens with a gorgeous black and white sequence of his two leads. He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are making love while their toddler son escapes from his crib and falls out an open window.
The entire scene is shot in 3000 fps – extremely slow motion – which gives each shot a picturesque quality as the horror unfolds. The complete opening is beautiful and artful despite the fact that it ends with a child plummeting to his death.”
7. Man Bites Dog: The Heart Attack
“This answer ruins the end, so please see it before reading farther.
The lead character, Anna, has been captured and tortured to the point of reaching a final procedure that will be euphoric and give her transcendence to understand all secrets of the afterlife. A surgeon flays Anna alive, removing all her skin, but the skin on her face.
She achieves the knowledge that the cult seeks and the Madam is there to hear it. Whatever had been said leads the Madam to kill herself in the next sequence. We loved this film – the end is like the horror version of Lost In Translation .
The brutality is so harsh that it stays with you for weeks after viewing, haunting your subconscious. Not many films can do it. It was nice to see a film that was so extreme have a mostly female cast which does a remarkable job of getting under your skin and staying there.”
4. Irreversible : Fire Extinguisher Head Crush
“This sequence is so artistically done that it puts to shame other gore scenes with its high level of taste.
We have our lead character, a little boy named Oscar, captured by blood thirsty bullies who hold him underwater in a pool to drown him.
The scene does not cut away as his friend, a vampire with the body of a young girl, comes to his aid.
The entire crowd of bullies are mutilated and cut up with limbs and blood and kicking legs going through the locked shot as we watch Oscar held underwater. Beautiful filmmaking.”
2. Suicide Club : Subway Track Suicide
“This scene opens up the film and it grabs your attention from the very beginning and never lets go with its strange, bloody, introspective opus.
We see groups of uniformed school children happily and excitedly line up, then sing while joining hands.
The train comes and the children jump onto the tracks causing a tidal wave of blood soaking all other patrons and the entire station in utter chaos. We dig smart horror and this film really explores the suicide phenomenon and what would convince people to take their own lives.”
1. Hostel 2 : The Elisabeth Bathory Blood Bath
“You so often see a scene where a woman is killed, but very rarely is the killing perpetrated by another female.
This scene shows both ends of the spectrum – the innocent screaming victim played perfectly by Heather Matarazzo and the cold, viscous killer played by Monika Malacova.
The scene plays so well – so unrelentingly horrific that you can’t pull your eyes away. We are both Hungarian, so the shout out to Elisabeth Bathory was a fun one to see played out in film.”
Dead Hooker In A Trunk (2009) is out on DVD now.
Looks Like: A supernatural chiller about a possessed skeleton that decides to blow up the school on graduation day. Also, the skeleton really knows how to accessorise – look at that hat and scarf combo.
Actually Is: A trash classic featuring a bunch of English actors putting on (borderline) American accents and muttering stuff about 7/11s and prom, whilst trying to survive attacks from a slasher killer dressed up in a Jester outfit.
It’s a LOT of fun.
And you can see it on the big screen, tonight, at the Dalston Rio in London.
Then, after the film’s finished, you can take part in an on-stage Q&A featuring Slaughter High star and ex-Bond girl/ Sinbad squeeze Caroline Munro. I’ll be on-stage asking her some questions too. Go to the Cigarette Burns website (opens in new tab) for more information.
Imaginary Dialogue: “Why are you offering me an apple shaped bomb, Marty? I can see the fuse quite clearly. You’ve even lit it. I’m probably not going to eat that. Also, why are you a skeleton?”
It’s exactly a week until the Fantastic Films Weekend kicks off in Bradford, so I’ve put together a little list of seven films you MUST see at the festival.
For tickets, go here (opens in new tab) . But first, read this:
7. The Exorcist: The Director’s Cut – Friday 10 June 12.00am Pictureville Cinema
So, The Exorcist Director’s Cut , then. On the big screen. AT MIDNIGHT. With an exclusive written introduction from William Peter Blatty. Quite frankly, I think you need a good reason NOT to go to this one.
When The Exorcist was released so few cinemas showed it, groups organised Exorcist coach trips to go and see it. We should get down on our knees and praise Pazuzu that FFW are putting it on.
6. C.H.U.D. – Saturday 11 June 2.45pm Cubby Broccoli Cinema
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is incredible. So incredible, that I included it in my list of my top ten horror films of all time (opens in new tab) way back in September 2010 (which is approximately 100 years ago in non-Internet time).
It’s so rarely shown that this may well be your last chance to see it on the big screen. I’d advise you take the opportunity, as it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
4. Hobo With A Shotgun – Saturday 11 June 9pm Pictureville Cinema
Essentially what it’d look like if Martin Scorsese ever made a Troma Film ( Toxie Driver , anyone?), this increasingly insane trailer adaptation is non-stop fun from start to finish.
Rutger Hauer has rarely been better, and this is a serious gift from the gods for cult cinema geeks.
Hobo is the most modern film showing at the festival, but it fits right in with the trash classics it’s sitting alongside. That’s a mark of quality in my book.
3. The Stuff – Sunday 12 June 2pm Pictureville Cinema
Okay, so it’s not technically a film (it was part of the classic BBC Ghost Stories For Christmas series) but Whistle And I’ll Come To You is hands-down the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. No question.
Honestly, this is one of my favourite things in the world, and I can’t believe that I get to see it with an audience, AND meet director Jonathan Miller, who’ll be taking questions from the crowd before the screening.
I’m glad the Q&A won’t be taking place AFTER the screening, as I’ll probably be too much of a gibbering wreck to formulate proper sentences.
1. Re-Animator – Sunday 12 June 8.45pm Pictureville Cinema
My final recommendation is the final film of the festival – and what a way to close it. Stuart Gordon should be a household name for this terrific ’80s trash-fest – it’s hilarious, silly and absolutely drenched in blood.
Until someone sees sense and gives Guillermo del Toro the money to make At The Mountains Of Madness , this is still by far the greatest HP Lovecraft flick (even if it doesn’t really have much to do with the original story).
I’ve only ever watched it on my precious VHS. I can’t wait to see it on the big screen.
Why You Should Watch It: I couldn’t very well talk about X-Cross above without showing you the greatest scene. So here it is.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t spoil the experience of watching the full film. Also, it’s impossibly awesome.
Killer Quote: “I’m pissed.”